The formation of interpersonal and learning relationships in the transition from primary to secondary school: Students, teachers and school context

Jane Tobbell, Victoria L. O'Donnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


The importance of relationships in education has been well established in the literature. However, the nature of relationship is seldom defined and as a result interpersonal and learning relationships are conflated and so implicitly treated as synonymous. Here we argue that learning relationships are different from interpersonal relationships, but crucially that interpersonal relationships are a pre-requisite to learning relationships. There is a paucity of research which examines relationship formation, especially at the point of transition from one school to another when there is a normative imperative to form new relationships. In this paper the experiences of students in their transition to secondary school are explored and we focus on relationships with their new teachers. An ethnographic method was employed which followed children during their final year of primary school and into their first year of secondary school. Through fieldnotes, interview data and document analysis student and staff voices and contextual practices illuminate relationship formation. We present data from three schools in the UK under the themes of courtesy, rules and resistance, and school systems and pedagogical practice. The data demonstrate that attention must be paid to the construction of enabling transition contexts to facilitate the formation of interpersonal relationships which may lead to learning relationships in the new school.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-23
JournalInternational Journal of Educational Research
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Transition from primary to secondary school
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Learning relationships
  • School context

Cite this